We are a family adventure blog, and we worried that wasn’t a whole lot of family stuff to do in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). It is mostly back county wilderness with dry rough roads and unimproved camping. Despite the ruggedness, we found some fun things to do in this vast wilderness, and we’ve collected them for you here in this post.
First, a warning is in order. The monument is purposely unimproved. This means that roads are in terrible condition, there is very little signage, and trails are unmarked. It is easy to get lost, break down, or run out of water. Our family got lost twice in the monument, and though we could easily backtrack on one of those occasions, the other time we felt serious anxiety about our survival.
Every year someone dies in GSENM because they were unprepared for what they would encounter. We won’t be giving you survival tips, just a warning to go prepared, and some directions about a few great places in the monument. To find out more details on some of the amazing features of GSENM, click the following links to our reviews.
Our favorite hike in the area is easy, accessible, and it’s impossible to get lost. You access the hike from Cannonville. The trail leads you up a slot canyon that follows a pleasant creek and never gets too narrow for as long as you want to go. (We did about 3.0 miles roundtrip.) This is where the family adventure starts in GSENM.
The Escalante Natural Bridge trail is one of our favorites because it involves 5 river crossings. The trail is flat, easy, and fun. Our kids loved it! And the destination is amazing, too. The natural bridge is beautiful to stand below.
We got on the wrong trail to this arch, so make sure to follow our instructions closely. This arch is accessible from the town of Escalante and is a short 1 mile hike to a nice gray sandstone arch. Pair this one with Covered Wagon Natural Bridge.
A very short hike (less than a 1/2 mile) leads to a nice natural bridge that has been carved out of the soft sandstone. Behind the bridge is a large grotto that stays cool and moist. The trailhead is barely a mile from the trailhead for Cedar Wash Arch.
If you see a postcard for GSENM if most likely has Grosvenor arch on it. There is no hike to this soaring double arch, just a rough ride over a terrible road for ten miles. Grosvenor Arch is definitely safe and worth seeing if you’re near Cannonville and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Billed as one of the most prolific dinosaur trackways in the world, these dinosaur footprints were discovered fairly recently. You can find them by taking a short detour off Hole-in-the-Rock Road east of Escalante. They are very difficult to see on the white sandstone.
Our favorite place to play in GSENM is Devil’s Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road. It is very much like Goblin Valley, and the kids will enjoy climbing, hiding, and chasing in and out of the hoodoos. This is one of the few places with picnic tables in the national monument.
This may be the most amazing hike we’ve every seen for spectacular scenery, but don’t believe everything you read online. This hike is neither simple nor family friendly. It is appropriate for those 8 and older, and they’ll need plenty of help!
The man-made caves are located right across the street from Peek-a-Boo and Spooky, and they still contain artifacts of the brothers who built them while prospecting in the area.
The monument is 3000 square miles (compared to Bryce Canyon’s 56 square miles). It is not surprising there are multiple Visitor’s Centers. We went to two, a small one in Cannonville and a much larger one in Escalante. Both of them had plenty of information, a small museum, and a Junior Scientist program. There are also Visitor’s Centers in Kanab and Big Water.
One Final Note
All roads in the monument require high-clearance vehicles and careful driving. Washboards in the road will shake the paint right off the car, and road conditions may be impassable in certain weather. We were fine in our van, but plan on going slow and eating a lot of dust.
If you are looking for other things to do in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area, check out our 3 Day Itinerary for Escalante. It takes the best adventures and puts them into a trip just for your family. Make sure to visit Bryce Canyon National Park when you are down in Garfield County, too!